Dr. Jan Lovy Presents on Deadly Fish Disease

On March 8, 2013, Dr. Jan Lovy of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife gave a presentation entitled “Fish Disease Research: A Focus on Understanding Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia and Its Risks to New Jersey Fisheries.” Dr. Lovy is a fish pathologist and research scientist who is in charge of monitoring the health of the New Jersey fish population by surveying disease and investigating kills in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Lovy received his Bachelor of Science degree from Unity College in Maine with a major in Aquaculture. He then began working as a seasonal employee for the Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Dr. Lovy stated, “During this time, I expressed my interest in fish pathology, and I got opportunities to work with the state fish pathologist.  Following this position, I got accepted into graduate school at the Atlantic Veterinary College in the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, where I acquired my Ph.D. in Fish Pathology, and, after this, I spent around four years doing post-doctoral research specializing in fish health and immunology.”

While working as a Postdoctoral Researcher, Dr. Lovy completed research at the Pacific Biological Station in British Columbia, Canada.

The two main facilities that Dr. Lovy utilizes in his work are the Pequest Trout Hatchery and the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery. The Pequest Trout Hatchery produces seven hundred thousand trout annually, and the fish are bred and raised onsite in specially crafted tanks. In the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery, broodstock is captured from the wild using trap nets. Broodstock is a group of fish used for breeding purposes. The eggs are then collected, fertilized, and released into a highly monitored pond, where one to two million fish can be raised each year.

Annual health inspections help Dr. Lovy and his colleagues to sample each fish species in both of the hatcheries and decide whether they should be released into the wild.

In the Hackettstown Fish Hatchery, there is a lack of biosecurity because of the uncontrolled conditions of the pond, and so diseases spread more easily between the fishes. Some diseases found there include digeneans and lymphocystis. Digeneans are a type of parasitic flatworm that usually inhabit the digestive tract of fish, though can also infect other organ systems.

Though these diseases can be harmful to the fish populations, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), a disease that has a broader distribution and is highly pathogenic, appears in over eighty different species. This RNA rhabdovirus has strains that affect both marine and freshwater fish, and it can cause large population declines, partially due to its ability to be transmitted from different species in close contact with one another.

VHS has the potential to spread to the waters of New Jersey from northern populations in the Great Lakes. Though it has not yet reached New Jersey, it is still a possible threat.

The Pacific Biological Station is a facility in British Columbia, Canada, being utilized for the study of marine fisheries and aquaculture on the west coast. While working there, Dr. Lovy researched VHS in Pacific herring.

VHS can infect species as an acute systemic disease. In this way, the disease first enters into the epithelial cells through the fish’s outer layer, and then after a bout of replication, the virions are able to infect fibroblasts. They then disseminate into the endothelium, which eventually causes organ failure in the intestines, kidney, liver and spleen. Virions are virus particles, and a single herring can shed five hundred million virions every day once they have become infected with viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

If the fish are able to survive the acute phase of VHS, they suffer from a neurological disease caused by the virus invading their nervous tissue. These fish can then become carriers of the disease if the virus remains in the nervous tissue.

Once the virus enters a population, it spreads quickly and efficiently, evolving rapidly. It is believed that mutations may lead to adaptation to new fish hosts. Genetic typing allows the researchers to study possible mutations within a single disease outbreak. One of the main pieces of data they analyze is the gene sequence of glycoprotein within an outbreak, and, in one outbreak, they were able to track up to eighteen different types of glycoprotein alone.

VHS now has the potential to enter the waters of New Jersey. New Jersey contains species that the virus is already accustomed to, and VHS exists in marine environments in the Atlantic Ocean and in freshwater in the Great Lakes. In order to prepare and monitor the health of the fishes in New Jersey, Dr. Lovy’s team is performing pathogen surveillance and investigating any disease-related casualties. Early detection of any traces of the disease near New Jersey is essential to protecting the numerous species that live there.

When asked how he became interested in the field of fish pathology, Dr. Lovy said, “I was always interested in fish biology, and, after taking some courses in fish pathology, I became fascinated with how infectious diseases could impact wild and farmed fish.  The more I learned about fish, the more I realized that their biology is not unlike ours in terms of their health and ability to develop disease.”

Dr. Lovy’s field can be very accessible for interested students and often offers internships. As for advice in getting started in the field, he said, “As an undergraduate, the most important thing is to try to get as much hands on experience as possible in various aspects of marine science; this will benefit by helping you to find the aspects of the field that most interest you.  Hands on experience is always very valuable when applying for graduate schools and jobs…I would also encourage to travel and take advantage of experiences, even if they are far from home—if this is something you are able to do.”  Dr. Lovy worked in the United States, Canada, and the Czech Republic while he was developing his skills in the field, and he said, “These experiences have really helped me to gain perspectives in the field.”

Careers in research are still obtainable and any individual who is interested in a career similar to that of Dr. Lovy can consider the opportunities for available internships in the field. According to attending sophomore Zachary Gotthardt, “It was very reassuring to see that interesting jobs are still out there for biology and marine science majors.”

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